Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Aragóns Of Albuquerque: Still Chasing The Power; Ex-State Rep Robert Bids For Party Post, Plus: Some TV News And A Griping Lawmaker 

They've seen the peaks and valleys of the political life, but there is one constant in the history of the Aragóns of Albuquerque--they don't give up. Today, even as the most famous member of their clan--former state senate powerhouse Manny Aragon--is threatened with a possible federal indictment--Robert Aragón, a cousin to Manny and a onetime state rep, has emerged as the favorite to become the new chairman of the Bernalillo County Democratic Party.

Speaking from his ABQ law offices where the soon-to-be 50 year old conducts "a small practice," Robert Aragón told me he is confident of victory when county Dems convene April 14 to elect new leadership, and he doesn't expect cousin Manny to be an albatross.

"I love my cousin. He is a good and decent man, but I am not Manny. Anyone who knows us is aware that that our politics differs. We are two different individuals."

Those political differences, Aragón said, are simple. "Manny is liberal and I am more centrist."


The Aragóns are known as hardball political players, but they have been backbenchers since Manny left the senate. Robert's dad, Bennie Aragón, was a leader in the state House in the 70's. Robert's uncle, Mel, was an ABQ city councilor in the 70's and lifelong Democratic power broker. His sister, Margaret Aragón, was married to ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez. Last year, Robert's nephew, young Dominic Aragón, ran in the Dem primary for an ABQ West Side House seat, a race won by Moe Maestas.

At one time it was Robert who represented a new generation. He was appointed to the House in 1979 to fill the vacancy created when his father, then-Rep, Bennie Aragón, took a position in the administration of Governor King. Robert was barely 21 and became one of the youngest House members ever. His House career ran until '86 when he was defeated by fellow ABQ Dem Dan Silva who still holds the seat.

Aragón describes himself as having been "extremely active" in party affairs since his last political play--an unsuccessful run against the late GOP ABQ Congressman Steve Schiff in '92.

"I want to build a party of inclusion, to bring together the young and old, the progressives and the centrists. We won last November, but a lot of it was due to anti-Bush sentiment. I want to help build a party people vote for." He said.

Robert insists his days of seeking political office are over. But would he be a front man for his former brother-in-law, Mayor Marty Chavez, who he partnered with in practicing law and with whom he still has a close relationship?

"Party rules are clear, and I helped write them. A county chair will stay neutral in contested primary races. I will adhere to the rules," he asserted.

Aragón, of course, was referring to the nascent battle for the 2010 Dem Guv nomination brewing between Chavez and Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish. Has he talked to Di and asked for her support?

"I plan to talk with her after the legislative session. She is very busy. I am a longtime fan. You will see my name on her list of contributors." Aragon told me.


Manny Aragón
While saying he would be neutral in a Marty-Di match-up, Aragón is taking sides in the race for NM Dem Party chair which will be decided at the end of April. That battle to replace John Wertheim features ABQ attorney Brian Colón and former Socorro state Rep. Mike Olguin.

"I think Brian is the frontrunner, but if Mike is successful I will work with him to build a strong party," He offered.

Ana Canales, a progressive Dem who was a Wesley Clark prez backer and later a John Kerry supporter, is also running for chair. While the well-known Aragón is the front runner, insiders point out that a couple of years ago state Senator Linda Lopez was ousted as Bernalillo county chair by the progressive wing, so don't count Canales out. Aragón is working the liberals hard, trying to persuade them his candidacy should not be anathema to them.

Like Colón, Aragón is tight with Big Bill, leading to speculation that he is supporting both of them in their bids, but the Guv is not expected to make any public declarations. Based on Aragón's musings, Denish would not seem prone to oppose him. She has worked hard to build bridges to Hispanic Dems and an open fight would not serve her well. Also, there is increased speculation that Mayor Chavez is not as committed to the Guv race as Di and that other offices could still attract him.

Some argue that the emergence of Aragón is a step back to the politics of the past and that it keeps the party shadowed by the ethical concerns of cousin Manny. But others maintain that the politically tested and pragmatic Robert Aragón will send the message that the majority party is serious about maintaining its grip on power, a subject that his storied family is well-acquainted with.


The news is no match for Alex Trebek. The host of Jeopardy led KRQE-TV to a narrow February ratings victory over the 6 p.m. newscasts on KOAT-TV and KOB-TV. CBS affiliate KRQE also continues its domination of the important 10 p.m. news, garnering a 21% share of the audience watching TV at that time, compared to 14% for both KOAT and KOB.


Not everyone at the Roundhouse is impressed that things are running relatively smoothly. One veteran lawmaker emails in: "For the past four sessions the leadership was accustomed to having the Governor set the agenda and work hard with staff to see it delivered. With the Governor gone or preoccupied most of the session, there was never an agenda and very little lobbying or energy devoted to the significant issues like health care, education, water and spending."

Well, if you are running for the Dem prez nomination getting rid of cockfighting, increasing the minimum wage and sexy renewable energy legislation is significant. And so it goes...

Email your news and comments from the top of the page. I'm Joe Monahan reporting to you from ABQ NM.

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